Landscape restoration: How do we measure impacts on nature and people?

From ecosystem recovery to the development of nature-based business enterprises, restoration at the landscape scale offers a myriad of potential benefits for both people and nature. Given the relative infancy of this field, however, a challenge which faces those planning and implementing restoration projects is the availability of robust scientific evidence on best practice. To generate evidence about how to effectively restore landscapes, projects need to monitor the long-term ecological, social and economic impacts of interventions.

A young osprey chick is ringer under licence in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.
Credit: Peter Cairns/scotlandpicture.com

The opportunity to improve our understanding of these impacts from ELP projects is largely enabled by the rigorous application process undertaken by our grantees. Project teams were required to use a purposely designed framework to create a tailored monitoring plan for their project. Monitoring is an integral part of any project, for checking it is on track to meet objectives, as well as for accountability and transparency to stakeholders. All too often projects fail to measure their full range of impacts, and opportunities to learn from both successes and failures are lost.

“The Endangered Landscapes Programme’s monitoring framework ensures that the grantees think carefully about the impacts of their interventions, on both nature and people, and how they will measure these”

David Noble, British Trust for Ornithology

At the Cambridge Conservation Forum’s Rewilding Symposium earlier this month, David Noble from the British Trust of Ornithology spoke about the monitoring framework in more detail, and its use in assessing progress towards each project’s intended outcomes. He explained that despite diverse landscapes and conservation goals, there are some common features across the projects that bring both opportunities and challenges compared to smaller, site-based conservation projects. These include their large spatial scale, long time frames, multiple stakeholders, and the unpredictability of outcomes to restore natural processes. The framework ensures that ecological, social and economic impacts are monitored closely throughout the projects. Its indicators are grouped into three areas:

  • Ecological (e.g. species abundance, habitat heterogeneity and connectivity)
  • Ecosystem Services (e.g. fire risk reduction, improvement of water quality, cultural value)
  • Societal (e.g. wellbeing, economic development, capacity building)

For example, our project in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania will be measuring the abundance of forest and grassland bird species, large carnivores and red deer, the Gökova Bay project in Turkey will measure changes in fisher’s size and variety of catches, and the Summit to Sea project in Wales will be monitoring key societal indicators such as investment in and job creation allowed by nature-based enterprises, and stakeholder engagement in project delivery. You can read more about the objectives of our eight funded projects here.

One of the ecosystem services indicators being measured by the Turkey project is the quantity and diversity of fishers’ catch. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya.

Given the move away from intensive land management to self-governing ecosystems, there will always be a level of uncertainty associated with the outcomes of these types of projects. Monitoring frameworks do, however, allow projects to not only measure their progress, but proactively adapt their plans to mitigate potential barriers to their success. The collection of robust scientific evidence also allows better decisions to be made in relation to protection and revival of landscapes, as well as delivering socio-economic benefits.

Our monitoring framework is also available to download from our website, and can be found here under our Resources section.